Deitrich was one of four Bayonne police officers sent to New Orleans in early September as part of the Hudson County Rapid Deployment Force including Bayonne Det. David Macre, Police Officer John Arndt, and Police Officer Joseph Czapla.
The task force was made up of police officers from various municipalities, the county sheriff's office and the Hudson County Prosecutor's office and part of the first New Jersey contingent to help relieve over taxed local law enforcement agencies in New Orleans.
Deitrich, a 13 year veteran of the Bayonne Police Department had never seen an American city so devastated as New Orleans was - although he was among the officers that responded to the World Trade Center after the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.
"If you watch the news and listen to city officials down there, you would get the impression that the city is going to be back together in six months," Deitrich said. "This might be true for Bourbon Street and some of the business district, but 95 percent of New Orleans is going to have to be rebuilt."
Deitrich described the city a fish bowl with only the garden district high enough to avoid most of the disaster.
"Everywhere else the houses got flooded and they will have to be knocked down," he said. "The city is never going to be what it was. Most people won't be moving back. The storm destroyed a whole city and culture, and even when the city gets rebuilt it will be a new culture with a different people."
Making a real difference
Although he and his fellow officers didn't have all "the creature comforts" they might have had at home when first arriving in New Orleans - such as a working shower - they were well supplied with those things they needed to get the job done such as boots and gas masks.
Deitrich was among the officers who responded to New York City after the attacks on the World Trade Center, but the scenes were sharply different.
"One of the things that hit home is how the people genuinely appreciated our coming to help them," he said. "After 9/11 when me and other officers went to New York we found a devastated scene. But there wasn't much that we could do. We got on the bucket lines and helped, of course. But in New Orleans, we felt as if we served a purpose. We went to work as soon as we got there."
The task force to which Deitrich and the others belonged came as a result of Sept. 11, and effort by Northern New Jersey law enforcement to have a team in place that can react quickly and effectively to disasters.
Because local police were overwhelmed by the disaster, Deitrich and the other officers from the New Jersey contingent took up patrol duties in order to keep the peace and to rescue those trapped in flooded houses.
"We did a lot of home searches and night operations using night vision equipment looking for looters," he said.
In the waning days of their assignment, the task force members searched for survivors and indeed, the New Jersey contingent managed to find several people trapped in their homes.
"They were dehydrated, but they were alive," Deitrich said.
But the team found many more that hadn't survived.
"You prepare before you go down for things that you might see," he said.
Among the other duties involved the pets left behind in some of these homes. "There were tons of animals," he said. "Most people weren't able to take their pets. So after a couple of days we entered the house to see if animals were there. We gave the animal's food then mark the house for the ASPCA to come collect them."
A very organized group
Deitrich said the New Jersey contingent made a huge difference partly because the group was well organized and went into the area with a plan of action.
Among the duties they performed was to respond to 9-1-1 calls.
"There were 10,000 calls that needed to be responded to when we left," he said, attributing this to the second hurricane Rita that struck the area while his team was there.
The aftermath of Katrina startled him and left him with some distinct memories. He saw boats on tops of houses.
"We even saw a shrimp boat in the middle of the street miles away from the ocean," he said. "We also saw people who had made a raft from plank boards and tires and used it to get to where they needed to go."
While he worked 12 to 16 hours a day during his two-week tour of duty, Deitrich was happy he went, but admitted he was relieved when he got home.
"When I saw the New Jersey Turnpike I wanted to kiss the ground," he said. "This made me appreciate what we have up here."
After his return, he and the others got a few days to recover, then went back to work in Bayonne.
"It's nice to get back to routine," he said.
Contact Al Sullivan at email@example.com